There Is No Such Thing As “Teen Social Media Use”

There are “Teen Social Media Uses.” Plural.

The teenagers I work with use a variety of social media platforms to communicate with one another and, by extension, adults. There’s no single tool that works for all of them, and the character of the group of teens both influences and is influenced by the digital communication tools it uses.

I meet with a group of 10th graders after school once a week. Today is our first get-together of the new school year, and Facebook Messenger was how we organized it. No problem. But the group of 12th graders who come to the church once a week don’t use Messenger–they’re not even on Facebook. I have to send group text messages to them. I don’t even have the phone numbers of the kids in the 10th grade group.

Is it that seniors don’t use Facebook and sophomores do? Of course not. These are just groups of peers who have their preferred vehicles for communicating; you might just as easily find a group of 10th graders as allergic to Messenger as these 12th graders are. Also, each of these youth are likely embedded in other peer groups that uses different tools for talking to each other. They use Messenger or texting for the church youth group, and Whatsapp for their friends from the soccer team.

Yet I’m not about to go chasing kids all over the digital landscape. I’m still working mostly on group communication for the purpose of organization–not one-on-one messages to teens, which need to default to the most public vehicle possible, in my opinion. You won’t find me Snapchatting with teenagers (or anyone, for that matter).

All this diversity requires adults to ask groups of students, “How do you guys prefer to be contacted? How would you like me to interact with you?” Their autonomy in this area requires adults to relate to them in a way we never have before, right?

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